The conversation about sexual assault and rape culture did not start with Donald Trump.
Centuries ago, American women of color led the charge to speak out against a legacy of sexual violence waged against them. It continued in the mid-1970s when college women across the country took back the night, organizing marches and vigils protesting rampant sexual violence on their campuses, and when their daughters and granddaughters started survivor advocacy groups and dragged mattresses across their campuses decades later. It has persisted in countless ways, seen and unseen, acknowledged and dismissed — most notably in communities that intentionally center the experiences and needs of survivors over those of their alleged assailants.
But rape culture is still insidiously embedded into our nation’s very fabric — so much so that it actually took allegations made against a presidential candidate to start a full-blown, mainstream, national dialogue. More specifically, it took video evidence of Donald Trump describing his propensity for assault to take women’s allegations against him seriously. And before we even got here, there were buried accounts of marital rape, a discredited child rape lawsuit, and seemingly endless misogynistic comments, on top of his horrifyingly sexist political platform. And even so, plenty still doubt that this man, who in so many ways embodies an oppressive, patriarchal, toxic masculinity, may be an assailant, a perpetrator of gendered violence — and some even continue to defend him.
That a misogynist perpetrator of violence could still lead and represent our nation, and that a massive number of Americans will still vote for him despite these revelations, is infuriating. For women who have endured harassment, for those who have been silenced by a man’s power, and for survivors of abuse or sexual assault, the tenor of this reckoning can be exhausting and triggering. It requires self-care.
Survivors’ and Activists’ Advice
“Engaging in self-care means letting ourselves feel fury. Self-care talk often asks us to find ways to bring joy into our lives. And while this is so important, I hope we also carve space to recognize that joy may be hard to find for many of us right now. Our anger, especially for those of us who are Muslim or survivors of color, is read as threatening, too negative, or some other bullshit. But rage at the violence we face is human, it is loving, and it is what drives us to demand better.” —Mahroh Jahangiri, executive director, Know Your IX
“One of the most valuable pieces of advice I constantly tell myself is I don’t have to read my mentions. There is no obligation to give attention to social media when it is likely full of triggering material. You don’t owe anyone your attention online.” —Wagatwe Wanjuki, cofounder, Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture
“About half of the country openly supports and defends a candidate who brags about sexually assaulting women on camera. This is what it means to live in a rape culture. Allies can combat this by making sure they are purposely and visibly showing love for all survivors — including survivors who are queer and/or women of color — in a climate that systematically targets and silences us. Doing so is a radical act.
“But ultimately, I want to live in a world where survivors of sexual assault are believed, where black lives matter, where we aren’t living under the thumb of white supremacy and patriarchy. Then we wouldn’t have to keep talking about self-care when the conversation should really be about changing our culture of violence.” —Tani Ikeda of #SurvivorLoveLetter
“Between the hashtag #RepealThe19th and continuously emerging claims of sexual assault, the media coverage of Donald Trump and this election has recently been a slap in the face to survivors of sexual assault. But one man, whatever his status or title, cannot change the fact that you are a survivor. You are not a liar, a phony, or a fake. Donald Trump cannot take away your strength or agency. His words have only shown us how much work still needs to be done, and it is deplorable actions like Trump’s that make us more committed to ending rape culture.
“There’s no right way to recover from sexual assault. Everyone goes through their own process and it’s important to remember there’s no ‘right’ way to self-care. Allies should also be mindful of that.” —Sara Li, founder of Project Consent
Self-care is “about taking steps to feel healthy and comfortable,” according to RAINN’s website. This useful resource advocates for survivors to approach self-care in terms of both physical and emotional health, by attending to one’s sleep, eating, and exercise habits, as well as carefully considering how and with whom they’re spending their time.
To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.
You’re hardly alone: Traffic to RAINN’s hotline increased by one-third over the past weekend following the revelation of Trump’s comments, and counselors are on hand to speak confidentially with anyone struggling with any issue related to sexual assault.
As Bitch magazine cofounder Andi Zeisler tweeted on Wednesday night, “So I guess the October Surprise is that we as a culture are actually going to take sexual assault seriously for a few weeks.”
The circumstances are undeniably depressing, but also undeniably ripe for change. While the impact on the actual women who have publicly made these claims is seismic, their bravery further presents an opportunity for activists doing this work — for those trying to transform this culture into one in which the women who claim a presidential candidate is a violent, despicable human are believed before they are forced to endure months of exposure to triggering statements and revelations.
But this opportunity is not a mandate. Survivors and activists alike ultimately don’t owe anybody anything except the care of themselves.
With that in mind, onward, in solidarity, we go.